Pearl Everlasting

April 27th, 2016 sendarama Posted in college basketball, pro basketball No Comments »

The tall dude with the pronounced paunch and an apparent case of the cocaine sniffles looked vaguely familiar, but it had been several years since I’d seen him dribble under duress, and he looked nothing like the whirling dervish of a point guard who went behind his back and through his legs as routinely as taking a breath. He entered the Big Wheel Bikes store in Georgetown in the summer of 1989 as a customer, not as an icon, and that’s how I figured it.

I’m looking for a bike, he mumbled. I showed him a few options, and then he left.

Two hours later, he came back and said he wanted the black Fuji Royale on the front display hook. He took out his American Express card for payment.

I read the name emblazoned on the front of the card and gulped. “Dwayne Washington,” it read. I looked up at my customer, peered down again at the card, snuck a final stare at Dwayne Washington’s features, and blurted out in astonishment, “Son of a bitch, you’re Pearl Washington.”

That’s right, said Pearl, but it was clear that he didn’t want to have a discussion about basketball.

I told him that I’d never forget his monster performance against Georgetown in the Big East conference tournament final in 1984, and he had trouble recalling the game. Knowing full well that he’d been cut by Miami just a few weeks earlier, and was obviously out of shape, I gingerly asked him what his plans were. He said that he was in DC for a short stretch to be with his girlfriend, and would be attending the Houston Rockets training camp in the fall.

I had the feeling that my efforts to buddy up to Pearl were not being reciprocated, so I gave up trying. I delivered the bike, and we bid our adieus.

When I heard of Pearl’s death last week of a brain tumor at age 52, I was touched, in part because of our brief encounter, in part for my affection for Syracuse, but principally because Pearl Washington was the most exciting college basketball player I’ve ever seen. With the ball in his hands, he was electrifying.

Pearl in mid-dribble

Pearl failed to hang on at Houston, and his descent continued with short stops with Rapid City and San Jose in the Continental Basketball Association, where spectators wondered aloud what had happened to Pearl Washington in a few short years.

It was posited that his ball-handling talents did not translate to the NBA, where 7-foot Goliaths guarded the lane, and his slowness afoot and lack of leaping ability were fatal drawbacks. And he had a problem controlling his weight. But you’d think that the best penetrating point guard in the history of college basketball could find a niche in the NBA among players he had trounced in college.

Pearl himself provided an insight during an interview in 2003 with the New York Times, “I had a God-given talent, and I was always ahead of everybody else in high school and in college. But when I got to the next level, guys were above me. So you have to decide — either you work hard enough to excel in the NBA, or ‘this ain’t for me anymore.’ I didn’t love it enough to really work hard at it anymore.”

To say Pearl’s NBA career was nondescript is to embellish it. Pearl was drafted with the 13th pick in the first round by New Jersey, a moribund franchise whose star point guard, Michael Ray Richardson, had been suspended by the NBA a few months before for cocaine use. He signed for three years and $900,000. En route to consecutive seasons of 24-58 and 19-63 during 1986-87 and 1987-88, the Nets were the pits of the NBA, drawing flies to their makeshift stadium in Hackensack, NJ, and playing in the perpetual shadow of the Knicks.

Pearl came off the bench, averaging about 20 minutes a game. He put up decent numbers, but Nets officials criticized him for being slow and unwilling to work at his game. And there was a bad environment in the locker room. Three Nets were suspended from the league for drug use between 1986 and 1988. When Pearl was left unprotected by the Nets after the 87-88 season, he was drafted by the expansion Miami Heat, who cut him in the spring of 1989. Three years out of college, he was out of the league.

If a lack of motivation and effort were to blame, can you fault the Pearl for not being inspired to succeed in the NBA? He had already blown away expectations at several levels. When he was an 8-year old in the playgrounds of Brooklyn, older players on the court compared his moves to Earl The Pearl Monroe, then a star with the Knicks who was famous for his herky-jerky spin moves and unorthodox shots. He didn’t just live up to the moniker — he usurped it.

The Two Pearls

As a high schooler at Boys and Girls High in Brooklyn, he averaged 35 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals and was the most highly recruited player in the country. He put Syracuse on the map as a college basketball power and was “the most exciting player who ever played in the Big East and the most important player to our program,” said his coach, Jim Boeheim.

Pearl took ball-handling to a new dimension. He dribbled primarily with his left hand, but shot righty. He created the crossover, a side-to-side dribbling maneuver which freezes defenders at their knees, often causing them to fall backwards. “In the open court, or on the break, or steering through the lane, one on one, there’s nobody better,” wrote Curry Kirkpatrick of Sports Illustrated during Pearl’s freshman season at Syracuse.

That’s what we’ll remember about the Pearl — his dashing, headlong, daring, and of course, penetrating, forays to the hoop, the Carrier Dome exploding as his lay-in somehow eludes Patrick Ewing’s fingertips, David slaying Goliath.

Even in repose, he’ll never stop being the Pearl. The NBA?…. that’s just a footnote.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Ben Simmons Is Very Interesting

January 14th, 2016 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

His handle is so good he’s neither right-handed nor left-handed.

He was the pre-season player of the year, a pre-season first team All-American, and the projected number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft without having stepped on a college court, and he’s exceeded expectations.

He doesn’t dribble. He glides. He’s Fred Astaire in sneakers.

His passes are so accurate they come stamped with a return receipt.

Magic compares himself to him.

He leads his team in points, rebounds, shooting percentage, assists, steals, and blocked shots.

He was born and raised in Australia, where his Bronx-born dad played professional basketball and married an Australian woman with four kids. Playing for Montverde Academy in Florida beginning with his sophomore year, he led his team to three consecutive high school national championships and won the Morgan Wootten Award as the McDonald’s All-American who best exemplifies outstanding character, leadership, and academics.

At 6’10”, 245 lbs, with the wing span of a pterodactyl, the hops of a kangaroo, and superior ball-handling skills, he can take it to the hoop at any time.

“One of the best ever to play,” said Antawn Jamison of the 19 year old.

He rarely shoots the three ball… He doesn’t have to.

In fact, he doesn’t shoot very much at all – but when he does, it’s with near 60% accuracy and more than a dash of the spectacular.

He’s Ben Simmons of LSU, the most interesting basketball player in the world.

Outside of the recruiting trail, where he is legend, Simmons may also be one of the more well kept secrets in the world. Ben’s identity, let alone his excellence, is far from common knowledge among the sports fan public, which continues to be mesmerized with pro football. The NFL trumps interest in college basketball until after the Super Bowl. And that’s not about to change.

Despite a series of public relations disasters which would have crippled a mid-size country, the NFL is more popular than ever, and has expanded its reach by partnering with fantasy gambling sites Fan Duel and Draft Kings. Early this season, the sites advertised shamelessly during NFL games. When New York State’s attorney general instituted a court case to shut down Fan Duel and Draft Kings in New York, they wisely curbed back on the obnoxious advertising; but the league succeeded in introducing millions to legal gambling on football.

The mix of fantasy site gambling with the NFL’s intoxicating game action has produced an excitement package strong enough to withstand the fall-out from the bad stuff, which, if you’re counting, includes a) rampant player misconduct; b) Deflategate; c) the spate of concussion lawsuits; d) steroid allegations; e) inconsistent rule interpretations which cloud our understanding of catches, fumbles, and touchdowns; f) too many penalties; g) the Redskin logo uproar; and h) the latest slap in the face, the Rams’ relocation from St.Louis to LA, which was characterized by Michael Powell of the New York Times as “a move consistent with the league’s tear-’em-up, toss-’em-out ethos.”

Two years of uninterrupted bad acts by the league and its players should have undermined the public’s confidence in the game. But revenues and ratings and fan interest have suffered not a lick from the league’s blunders and bad press. Deflategate?… Who cares? Peyton Manning on steroids? … The purveyor of the story, Al Jazeera, left town. A playoff run quickly extinguished the Redskins logo issue. Nothing stands in the way of the NFL. It’s bigger than US Steel.

Ben Simmons Finishes

But if ever there was a college basketball game, and a player, to break through the NFL haze prior to the Super Bowl, the game was the 3-overtime thriller between no.1 Kansas and no.2 Oklahoma on January 4th; and the player is Simmons, who has displayed his full portfolio of skills in leading the Bayou Bengals to a 3-1 start in the SEC, including last week’s decisive triumph over Kentucky and a home win over tough Ole Miss last night.

Kansas-Oklahoma had a lot of hype going in. Not only was it the first regular season meeting between a No 1 and No 2 team in the same conference since 2007 (Ohio St-Michigan), but the teams were reversed in the two major polls. The AP voted Kansas No. 1, Oklahoma No. 2; the Coaches Poll placed Oklahoma in the top rung and Kansas second. The conflict was understandable. The game could not have been more even.

After both teams had blown opportunities to win in regulation and both overtimes, Kansas survived 109-106. “We beat a team that could win a national championship,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. Oklahoma nearly did the same thing.

LSU is not in that category. After a weak non-conference performance, including three straight losses to lesser foes, the Tigers probably need to go 12-6 in the SEC to assure an NCAA berth. If not, then Simmons will probably lose out on player of the year honors to Buddy Hield of Oklahoma, Melo Trimble of Maryland, or Denzel Valentine of Michigan State, who play for top teams. Nor is Simmons a finished product. In a recent loss at Florida, he had seven turnovers in the second half, three of them on offensive fouls. Sometimes he tries to do too much, as when he passes up the mid-range jumper for a more difficult shot or pass.

As he gets used to what his teammates can and cannot do, and develops confidence in his jump shot, Simmons will iron out the few wrinkles in his game. His signature move leaves no room for improvement.

When Simmons rips the ball off the defensive board, and turns up court with a full head of steam, culminating with a dish to a trailing teammate for an easy lay-up or his own thunderous dunk, he indelibly brands himself as a once-in-a-generation player.

And that’s pretty interesting.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

The Big Kaminsky

March 6th, 2015 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

Frank Kaminsky, the do-it-all 7′, 242 lb. senior center on 6th ranked Wisconsin, averaged three ppg as a freshman and sophomore on 8.9 minutes of playing time. As a junior, Frank dramatically raised his game and averaged 14 points and six rebounds as the cornerstone of the Final Four bound Badgers. As a senior, “He’s the best player in the country,” said Tom Izzo after The Big Kaminsky torched Izzo’s Spartans for 31 points on senior day in Madison last Sunday.

If ever there was an argument for a young college player who’s a pro prospect to spend an extra year or two in school to refine/develop his skills, it is Frank Kaminsky. In the course of four years, Kaminsky transformed himself from an awkward, skinny bench player to a multi-faceted, dominating big man. His father referred to him as a “goof who had to find his own way.” Now, far removed from his goofy days, he’s a certain first team All-American at center and the likely Player of the Year. Kaminsky is the only major conference player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and FG percentage. He shoots 75% from the charity line and over 40% from afar. What’s left?

Jerian Grant of Notre Dame and Rakeem Christmas of Syracuse also broke out in their last year of eligibility. Grant was suspended for the second half of last season, and the Irish plunged to 15-17 without him. The episode left a bad taste, and Grant, a freshman redshirt, returned to ND for his fourth year on the roster and fifth year in college. The extra seasoning was helpful. Grant is the unquestioned leader of the 25-5 Irish, and will be a top five pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

Christmas’s senior year leap was even more pronounced. After averaging 2.8, 5.1, and 5.8 pts/game, respectively, in three years as a starter in a star-studded line-up, the 6’9″, 250 lb Christmas became the go-to guy on a Syracuse squad that was bedeviled by injuries (DaJuan Coleman, Chris McCullough) and the premature defections to the NBA of Tyler Ennis and Jerian Grant’s younger brother, Jeriam. With renewed confidence and a jump hook to die for, Christmas is among the ACC leaders in scoring and rebounding.

But for every Kaminsky, Grant or Christmas, there are ten knuckleheads who left college early and are now buried on an NBA bench, laboring in the D league, or playing abroad. Jeriam Grant and Ennis certainly would have benefited from another year of college, and whatever happened to Derrick Williams?

So it’s no surprise that today’s college game is bereft of household names. The average fan must scramble to name even five collegiate stars, let alone an all-american or all- conference team. Fan identification is one of the biggest casualties of the one-and-done rule, which should be changed to a two-year college commitment. Still, the basketball purist can find solace, and familiarity, in the ever-increasing number of squads who are relying on third and fourth year players to fuel championship runs. Kaminsky’s Wisconsin and veteran-studded Virginia are well-equipped to challenge Kentucky for this year’s NCAA crown.

Frank Kaminsky using the left hand against Michigan State Sunday

Kaminsky evokes a bygone age. His looks and skill set are remindful of some great white players out of the past. In facial appearance and with the push shot, he conjures up Dolph Schayes. His all-round game and ubiquitous presence are reminiscent of Rick Barry. As a passer from the high or low post, he looks like Bill Walton.

But there’s nothing old-fashioned in the multiple ways he fills up a stat sheet. Like Dirk Nowitzki, Kaminsky can shoot from mid-range or deep and can finish at the rim with either hand. As a slasher, he’s Keith Van Horn. Add it up, though, and the sum total of his moves is pure Frank Kaminsky.

Kaminsky is in constant motion on the court. At the beginning of a possession, he’ll set a pick, then he’ll slide to the top of the foul line where he can receive a pass and become the point center. From there, he can hit the cutter, shoot, or drive to the hoop for an awkward, but highly effective 5-footer. There is no wasted movement. Hardly a Wisconsin basket occurs without some involvement by Kaminsky.

And Kaminsky has a wonderful supporting cast. The Badgers lack the height and muscle of Kentucky, but they are big enough, smart enough, and deep enough to give the Wildcats a struggle. Wisconsin leads the nation in offensive efficiency (points/possession), in fewest fouls committed (12/game), in fewest turnovers, and in most foul shots made relative to their opponent. Defensively, they relinquish only 56 ppg and enjoy a margin of victory of 15 pts/game in the tough Big Ten. “We’ve got five guys that can score on the court, and we’re unselfish,” noted second-best player Sam Decker.

But despite the Badgers’ balance and Final Four experience, it all comes down to Kaminsky. In their one outing this year without him, when Kaminsky was sidelined with concussion symptoms, Wisconsin lost 62-67 to lowly Rutgers.

It’s not clear how well Kaminsky’s skills translate to the NBA, where he lacks the girth to play center and may not be quick enough to guard some of the mobile power 4’s. But as a college player, he’s the nuts.

He’s The Big Kaminsky.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

On Any Given Thursday

March 18th, 2014 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

Let’s play the word game.

The NFL coined it, but college basketball best exemplifies it.

It’s what you got when 6-19 Boston College upends 25-0 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, when lowly Penn State beats Ohio State twice, and when Providence beats Creighton in the Big East conference tournament final seven days after being crushed by the Blue Jays.

It’s in the air when 16-0 Wisconsin and 15-0 Ohio State both lose five of six in Big Ten play before regrouping to land NCAA bids, and when Baylor and Oklahoma State fall to 2-8 and 4-9, respectively, in conference, before making late season surges.

The NFL mandated it, by its inverted draft system and by biased scheduling, but in the college game, it just came naturally.

During NCAA bracket time, which is right now, it’s the word on everybody’s lips. It’s the “P” word. It’s PARITY. You can’t just rely on chalk when completing your grid. You may actually have to know something.

In this year’s bracket, you can make the argument that the three seeds are better than the two seeds and that two of the four seeds – Louisville and Michigan State – have a better chance to win the tournament than three of the one seeds (Florida excluded). Curiously, the NCAA selection committee has underseeded several teams (New Mexico, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Michigan State) and overseeded others (Creighton, UMass, St. Louis).

In the old days, before conference re-alignment, a traditional basketball power in a Big Six conference could win half its games in conference play and be assured of an NCAA bid. Now, because of uneven scheduling in the re-aligned super conferences, one man’s 12-6 may be no more impressive than another’s 9-9. Virginia, for instance, played Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, and Syracuse only once each while fattening up twice on Maryland, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Florida State. The inequality of conference scheduling has forced the NCAA selection committee to place greater weight on other factors – strength of schedule, wins against top 50 opponents, and so-called “bad losses” to teams out of the top 100.

But the selection committee was not consistent in weighing these factors and in balancing recent performance versus year-long body of work. Despite Louisville’s paucity of top 50 wins, how could the committee ignore that it was steamrollering recent opponents? Ditto for resurgent Michigan State, which is healthy for the first time all season and dominated the Big Ten tourney. By way of cop-out, selection committee chairman Ron Wellman cited the “paper-thin” differences involved in seeding teams.

Just six years ago, in 2008, all four number one seeds made it to the Final Four. Now, you can’t tell a number one seed from a four seed. Where did all this parity come from?

Several factors have contributed to the leveling of the playing field in Division 1, notwithstanding the hogging of top freshman prospects by Kentucky and Kansas.

The pool of available talent has expanded. Teams are recruiting outside of the United States. Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, Michigan’s Nick Stauskas, and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins all played high school ball in Canada; and New Mexico’s aspiring Lobos feature two Australians in their starting lineup.

Further, liberalization of the transfer rule has allowed players to more freely change teams. At least twenty transfers are playing major roles for NCAA-bound teams , including Arizona ‘s T.J. McConnell, Duke’s Rodney Hood, San Diego State’s Xavier Thames, and Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane.

DeAndre Kane celebrates Cyclone’s Big 12 Tournament Win

Players who stay are improving during their career. Notwithstanding Kentucky’s success in 2012 with one-and-dones Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd -Gilchrist, and Marcus Teague, coaches are coming to realize that bringing in five or six star recruits is not the formula to win championships. A blend of returning veterans is required to be successful. Of the sixteen top-seeded teams, only Arizona and Kansas start more than one freshman.

When Kentucky won in 2012, it relied heavily on the contributions of returning lettermen Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, and Doron Lamb. Starting four or five freshmen the past two years, Kentucky has played erratically and immaturely, losing 22 games. Barring a Wildcat run in this year’s tournament, the John Calipari model has been discredited. The feeling now is that coaches who can maintain continuity in their program have the advantage of fielding wiser, stronger players than high turnover teams in pursuit of the top recruits.

Another big equalizer has been the increasing importance of the three-point shot. A weaker team trailing for the entire game by 10-12 points can narrow the gap quickly by making a few three-balls, as Boston College so notably did against Syracuse. To succeed today, a college team must shoot the three, make the three, and defend the three better than its opponent. Duke and Creighton are living off the three pointer.

Conference play is so grueling, said former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, that among the toughest tasks in sports is to win a road game in conference in February. The intensity is heightened during the conference tournaments where teams are meeting for the second or third time in the season, sometimes only a week apart. Teams know each other. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” said Emerson, but in addition, it allows teams to formulate a new defensive approach for the re-match. This makes for even more parity.

Thus, Providence was able to better contain Creighton’s 3-point shooting and Kentucky, in its third try, was able to push Florida to the buzzer in the SEC championship.

The most competitive of the conference tournaments was the Big Twelve’s. It was parity on steroids. Seven of the eight teams in the quarterfinal round made the NCAA tournament. During the regular season, these teams beat each other up. Only Kansas lost less than six games in conference play. Iowa State, the conference tournament winner, was 15-0 outside the conference, and 11-7 in it. After enduring the rigors of conference play, Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and even Baylor are capable of making protracted runs in the NCAA tournament.

Number one seeds Florida and Arizona have relatively clear paths to the Final Four, particularly if Kansas’ center prodigy Joel Embiid does not return at full strength from a back injury for the round of eight match with the Gators; but Louisville and Michigan State pose huge obstacles to Wichita State and Virginia progressing beyond the round of sixteen. The pundits are almost uniform in the belief that these upstart number one seeds will fall early to the number fours with the big resumes.

But the Shockers and the Cavaliers did not earn their high ranking by guile and good fortune alone. Both are in the top five of the respected Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings.

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect,” wrote Oscar Wilde.

In the topsy-turvy world of bracket completion, it would be wise to heed the words of the Old Aesthete.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Syracuse-Duke Demands an Encore

February 6th, 2014 sendarama Posted in college basketball No Comments »

There’s no proof that Punxsutawney Phil is a college basketball fan. But after dozing through Sunday’s Superbowl snorefest on Groundhog Day, on the heels of Syracuse’s heart-rending 91-89 OT victory over Duke Saturday night at the Carrier Dome, even a failed meteorologist with little knowledge of hoops would forecast six more weeks of intense college basketball leading to the start of the NCAA tournament on March 18th.

The build-up to the Super Bowl eclipsed interest in Syracuse-Duke. Many a sports fan with an inkling that Duke would be coming to Syracuse February 1st for their first-ever ACC meeting failed to block out the 6:30 start time with the wife and kids or simply forgot about it…… and came to regret it. Because long after the name of Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith (who?) is forgotten, this game will be remembered and recounted.

Well before the first tip, there was a sense of the enormity of the event. The opposing coaches – Mike Kryzyzewski and Jim Boeheim – were one, two in NCAA victories all time, 974 and 940, respectively. Though they had met twice before in pre-season tournaments, this was the first regularly scheduled game between the coaches. It would be Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone defense against Duke’s equally suffocating man-to-man.

The Carrier Dome had been sold out for months. A record crowd for basketball of more than 36,000 was expected. Syracuse, number two in the nation, in its first year in the Atlantic Coast conference, had won 21 straight to start the season, including 7-0 in conference play. Duke, after a slow start, was back to being Duke.

When the defections of Syracuse and Pitt from the Big East to the ACC were first announced in September, 2011, followed by the departures of Notre Dame and Louisville, the predominant reactions were loathing, disgust, and sadness over the dismembering of the Big East. For the sake of cash, historic rivalries honed over the past 35 years were being trashed. The annual Big East tournament, one of college basketball’s great shows, would be diminished. Didn’t anybody remember the epic battles between Syracuse and Georgetown? How about some respect for the conference which produced eleven NCAA teams as recently as 2011?

But after Saturday night, any outcry over the emasculation of the Big East is likely to be muffled. Because as good as the Big East was – and it was very good – no regular season Big East encounter ever produced the drama of Saturday night. “There’s never been one as good as this one,” said Boeheim. If an expanded ACC can produce regular season games like this, it can’t be all bad.

On the way to their classic encounter, both Syracuse and Duke underwent growing pains. Syracuse needed to replace early departer Michael Carter-Williams at point guard, and Duke was experimenting with a new, albeit incredibly talented, front court. After uncharacteristic losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, the Blue Devils plunged to no. 17 in the national ratings.

Appropriately, Pitt served as an appetizer for both teams in advance of Saturday night’s showdown. On January 18th , Syracuse bested the Panthers in a bruising affair which was reminiscent of their Big East wars. You can transplant northern folk to Tobacco Road, but you can’t take the Big East out of Pitt-Syracuse. The Panthers dominated the offensive glass 16-4, outscoring the Orange 19-2 on second-chance points, but the game was in play until the final moments, when Carter-Williams’ replacement, freshman Tyler Ennis, took charge.

Ennis directs traffic against Duke

Exactly 52 weeks after The Hyphenator catapulted to national prominence with a virtuoso performance against then no. 1 Louisville, punctuated by a steal and thunderous driving dunk to provide the winning margin, Ennis calmly weaved his way through the Pittsburgh traffic for two layups, including a lefty floater with 30.6 seconds left which clinched the victory. Twelve of his sixteen points came in the second half.

“He made some of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time,” said Boeheim of Ennis after the Pitt game. “He has a knack for getting to the basket that’s about as good as anybody I’ve ever seen.” That’s tall praise considering that Boeheim has played with or coached Dave Bing, Pearl Washington, and Carmelo Anthony. “He’s Fred Astaire in sneakers,” said Bill Raftery.

Ennis has filled the vacancy created by the flamboyant Carter-Williams with a calmness and stability unfamiliar to Orange fans. Despite its success over the years, Syracuse has traditionally been turnover prone and erratic at the foul line. Carter-Williams himself was a high-risk player. Big leads often melted into nailbiters, or shocking losses. But with Ennis at the helm, late leads are like money in a safe deposit box. Ennis avoids turnovers (4:1 assist-turnover ratio), makes his foul shots (5-6 against Pitt, 8-8 against Duke), and shoots to a high percentage for a point guard (43.6%). He is as efficient as he is conservative.

Duke played its best game of the season at Pitt on Monday January 27th, pulling away for an 80-65 win. The plodding Panthers were overwhelmed by Duke’s 3-point marksmanship. Andre Dawkins, a fifth year senior returning after a year’s absence, led the way with 6 of 7 from beyond the arc.

The Blue Devils’ low national ranking belied their rapid improvement over the past three weeks and the emergence of freshman Jabari Parker, transfer Rodney Hood (Mississippi State), and sophomore Amile Jefferson to form an uber-talented front line. Armed with a quartet of sharpshooters in the back court, Duke was equipped to provide Syracuse its toughest test. And that it did. Despite the disappointing loss, they have the goods to make another run at a national title. All Duke lacks is a big body to protect the rim.

From the get-go, the Game lived up to its billing. Syracuse’s zone and shot blocking ability gave Duke fits. The Devils kept pace with their devastating 3-point shooting. Syracuse exploited its size advantage down low, and put Duke in early foul trouble. The Orange made their first 11 from the charity stripe and led 38-35 at the half.

Everyone played well. For Syracuse, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant had career highs. Center Rakeem Christmas had a personal best six blocks and ten rebounds. Ennis was his flawless self. Duke had a season best fifteen 3-pointers out of 32 attempts. Parker, Hood, and Jefferson were superb. Tyler Thornton rescued Duke at the 6-minute mark with three 3-pointers in less than two minutes to erase a 7-point Syracuse lead. Rasheed Sulaimon hit two 3-pointers in the final minute including a tying shot at the end of regulation.

In the overtime, with Parker and Jefferson having fouled out, Ennis took advantage of the size mismatch and fed Grant with three perfect entry passes for no-dribble dunks. Two late foul shots by Ennis provided the winning points. Syracuse didn’t beat Duke. It outlasted the Blue Devils.

Were this a boxing match, the public would be crying out for a re-match. But it need not waste its breath. Duke-Syracuse II is scheduled for February 22nd at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tickets are available from $1069.00.

I have a feeling that wives and children will take a back seat to this one.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button